Died 2nd June 2010.
Rachael Slack (38) and her 23-month-old son, Auden, were killed on 2nd June 2010, by her former partner Andrew Cairns (44), who then killed himself. Mother and son were stabbed to death at their home in Well Yard, Holbrook. Rachael Slack was an artist.
It was just six days after she had asked officers from Derbyshire Police to intervene when because Cairns had threatened to kill her and take the child.
Cairns, who was the father of Auden, stabbed the toddler to death in Ms Slack’s cottage in Holbrook, Derbyshire, before turning the knife on her. He then fatally stabbed himself, positioning himself on top of Ms Slack. Ms Slack was stabbed 32 times in the chest and back and Auden was stabbed 16 times.
In October 2012, an inquest jury in Derby found that mother and son had been unlawfully killed by Cairns, who went on to take his own life.
After a six week hearing Derbyshire police were singled out for criticism by the inquest jury. The jury ruled that police failings “more than minimally” contributed to the deaths.
The jury was told that Cairns’ mental health had declined since the break-up of his relationship with Ms Slack in 2009.
Evidence showed Ms Slack had been in contact with Derbyshire Police about her concerns about Cairns and his mental health after she told him about her new relationship and pregnancy. On 26th May 2010, Ms Slack drove him to the police station because she was worried about his behaviour. He was detained under the Mental Health Act, but released after an assessment by health professionals. A psychiatrist assessed him as at low risk of suicide and no risk to others.
The following day he was arrested for making threats to kill Miss Slack. He said “”You’re a ******* bitch for abandoning me and getting together with someone else and getting pregnant. I’ve given up everything to be with you, if you are going to make it difficult, I’ll make it more so, you’ve no idea of what I’m capable of, I’ll kill you and take him (Auden) with me.”
No action was taken and he was released on police bail after being warned to stay away from her.
The police had assessed Ms Slack and her son as being at “high risk” of homicide at the hands of her ex-partner, but they failed to warn her of the danger she was in, or to discuss with her adequate steps that could be taken to better protect them both – failures that the jury found “more than minimally” contributed to their deaths.
When asked by the Coroner why more hadn’t been done to protect Ms Slack, Detective Chief Inspector Goacher replied that the house was secure and that most “normal, reasonable individuals” abide by their bail conditions. He also confirmed the child was killed first in front of his mother.
Police also confirmed Cairns tried repeatedly to speak to Ms Slack by telephone, after he was bailed.
As the coroner concluded the inquest by warning of an “epidemic” of domestic violence in the UK, Ms Slack’s family repeated calls made by victims and relatives of those affected for a public inquiry into how the state fails vulnerable women.
The family’s lawyers told the Guardian they were suing Derbyshire police, mental health services and social services for failing to protect the mother and child. Ms Slack’s partner at the time of her death, Robert Barlow, said that “things need to change” in the way such cases are handled. He said
Dr Robert Hunter, the coroner for Derby and South Derbyshire, said he would be writing to the home secretary to call for changes in the law giving police greater powers to detain people suspected of domestic and sexual violence.
Hayden Slack, Rachael’s brother, said he wanted a public inquiry into domestic violence: “The space that has been left in our lives by the tragic loss of Rachael and Auden will never be filled and never should be. Rachael was a devoted mother, a beautiful and truly caring person with a positive outlook on life. We hope any failings identified as a result of this inquest will ensure lessons are learned that could protect the lives of other women and children threatened by domestic violence.”
Mr Slack’s lawyer, Sarah Ricca, said: ‘The particular tragedy of this case is that the lives of Rachael and Auden were lost after they were both assessed as being at high risk of homicide. Why did this assessment not lead to steps to protect Rachael and Auden?”
The national domestic violence charity Refuge also wants an official inquiry to investigate why victims of domestic violence are “still not getting the protection they deserve from the police and other state agencies”.
Karl Smethem, assistant chief constable of Derbyshire, expressed sympathy for Ms Slack’s family but said he was confident his force’s procedures for the investigation of domestic violence incidents met national guidelines in 2010. He said the force was actively investigating the threats Cairns made to Ms Slack at the time of the deaths adding: “We did take steps to ensure that Rachael and Auden’s home was secure.”
He said that as a result of two reviews the force had “developed and improved” its domestic violence policies and procedures. The inquest heard that Derbyshire police have now told officers to make it clear to victims if they are deemed at “high risk” of homicide.
Coroner Dr Robert Hunter told jurors that Cairns, a former golf tutor, had been known to psychiatric services for a “considerable number of years” and had been prescribed anti-depressants.
Dr Nitesh Painuly, the consultant psychiatrist who treated Cairns between early 2009 and March 2010 told the jury that knowing his mental health history would not have led him to predict the tragedy. He said that while he was his patient there had been a number of occasions when his depression worsened.
Dr Painuly said that in March 2010 Cairns stopped engaging with the mental health trust. The last time he saw Cairns was in March 2010, when he did not show “clinical signs of depression”, but was “very angry about the treatment we had been giving him” .
Dr Painuly said Cairns wanted a CT scan because he felt they were missing something.
An appointment with various mental health professionals was made for 4th May, 2010, but Cairns did not turn up. At the meeting the health professionals discussed the possibility that Cairns potentially had a “narcissistic personality disorder”. Dr Painuly described this to the inquest jury as someone who does not lose their childish sense of self-importance. He said: “In this personality disorder people remain quite self-obsessed and self-occupied.” adding “And there is some anger if their self-interest is hampered – there’s that sense of entitlement.”
The killer’s family expressed “extreme disappointment” at the failure to provide Cairns with what they called “the proper levels of care”. A statement on behalf of his sister, Diane Belshaw, said: “The family feel they and Andrew were totally let down by the mental health trust; he had mental health issues and was arrested under the Mental Health Act just days before.”
Derbyshire Healthcare, who had treated Cairns for depression for a number of years, said they had sent a “lessons learnt” memo to all staff.
After the deaths, Derbyshire police referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Its findings will be released later.
Note: This report was drawn from reports in the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Derby Telegraph and the Times.